TAG Advisory Council Year-end Report for 2006-07

 

The Districtís TAG Advisory Council (The Council) is charged to make recommendations to the TAG Administrator, the Superintendent and the School Board with respect to services for talented and gifted students in Portland Public Schools. This report fulfills the Councilís mandate to provide a written account of its activities to the Administrator, the Superintendent and the Board at least annually.

 

Our report is organized according to the goals the Council set forth in May 2006. It groups these goals into two broad categories. The first set of goals included efforts to increase the Councilís representativeness and its ability to elicit and respond to community input. The second set of goals included efforts to examine and provide recommendations concerning policies and practices that improve learning opportunities for the Districtís talented and gifted students.

 

I. Efforts to increase the Councilís representativeness and its ability to elicit and respond to community input.

 

Broaden Council membership. The Council has made some progress in adding new members but continues to fall far short of its mandate to represent the demographics of the students served by the district. Renewed efforts to increase ethnic, cultural and geographic diversity should be prioritized in the coming year.

 

Improve Communication with parents. The large attendance at the TAG 101 meeting in May reflects a strong desire for both information and input on the part of TAG parents. However, we currently lack the ability to measure our success in reflecting the perspectives of TAG families or in communicating our efforts to them. Fulfillment of our mandate to represent the perspectives of TAG families will require new and innovative efforts. The Council could look toward the use of an email list or website to inform TAG parents of our goals and activities, to conduct surveys, and to facilitate focus groups to elicit input on current and prospective initiatives. A goal for next year should be to explore this idea with the Parent Involvement Office or other pertinent District staff. A high priority should be set on efforts to ensure that changes in TAG policies and practices are fully informed by the experience and insights of TAG families.

 

Explore use of School-based Council meetings to increase Councilís representativeness and responsiveness to community concerns. Parents expressed interest in this option at the new TAG family night, where information was collected about desirable times and locations. However, no school-based Council meetings were held. This goal should be carried over to the coming year.

 

II. Efforts to examine and provide recommendations for policies and practices that improve learning opportunities for the Districtís talented and gifted students.

 

Finalize and Present TAG Best Practices Document. This report (see attached) summarizes and recommends the adoption of acceleration and grouping strategies that have proven effective in meeting the needs of advanced learners in other districts nationwide. The report was presented to and discussed with two School Board members (Bobbie Regan and Trudy Sargent) in November and, with some revisions, was included in an information packet provided by the Director of Teaching and Learning (Judy Elliot) to the Boardís Student Achievement Committee in June. The Councilís goals to present this report to the full School Board and to the Superintendent and to engage the Board and community in discussions of its recommendations have yet to be fulfilled, and should be a focus of the coming school year.

 

The Best Practices report represents the Councilís most significant current effort to enhance learning opportunities for talented and gifted students in the District. Its basic thrust is that significant changes are required to provide the same level of aptitude-appropriate instruction to precocious students as is already being offered to other students. Of the recommendations set forth in this report, the most significant departure from current policy is that all students be afforded the opportunity to advance in single subjects to grade-level content of which they are capable. For instance, 3rd grade students who are ready for 5 th grade math should have the opportunity to study 5th grade math.

 

Several of the reportís recommendations are reflected in the June, 2007 draft of a Strategic Plan, set forth by the Office of Talented and Gifted: This plan outlines significant steps toward meeting both the learning needs of TAG students and the level and rate mandate set forth by the State. A high priority for the coming year should be to ensure that the recommended acceleration opportunities are communicated and understood as a right of students and an obligation of schools, not merely as a set of possibilities that schools may elect to provide. The Council should exert maximum effort to make its case that students who are ready for the next level should be readily advanced to the next level, whether in a single subject or an entire grade.

 

Promote the equalization of enrichment opportunities across schools. This is a work in progress as the extent of enrichment opportunities still vary greatly from school to school. 

 

Continue discussions about standardizing curricula and curricular extensions for TAG students across the District. The move toward a core curriculum and a more explicit curricular mapping system has potential to ease the process of matching the content of curricula with student skills and abilities. As such, it should facilitate the recommended acceleration policy.

 

Hold additional special events for TAG students (e.g., OMSI Day, Writing Festival, etc.). No new events were scheduled.

 

Continue to advocate for TAG students to get priority in School Choice so that they may be at schools with other students of similar abilities. Clearly with the entire transfer system being re-evaluated, this has been a challenge. No visible progress was made toward achieving priority transfers.

 

Request Research and Evaluation to provide statistics on numbers of students leaving the District, requesting school transfer, etc. Our request was met with an informative comparative report on in-district transfer requests by and successful transfers for TAG vs. non-TAG students. However, our central question remains unanswered: How many TAG students are leaving PPS for private schools, home schooling, or districts with superior advanced-learning opportunities?  We should continue to pursue these data in order to recommend effective policies for retaining the Districtís advanced learners.

 

 

The 2007-08 academic year will see a change in PPS leadership, new Board assignments and coalitions, a more robust budget than we have had in years, a change in the transfer policy and significant transitions involving school closures and mergers. In the TAG area, we may see reports from the state investigation and some sort of conclusion to the lawsuit. The drafting of a strategic plan by the TAG Office suggests that increased efforts may be devoted to aligning instruction with the needs of the Districtís advanced learners. These efforts appear promising and responsive to changes recommended by the Council.

 

As we formulate the goals for the coming year, we should look to key questions. How many precocious learners are we losing and how can we keep them? How can we more effectively identify and nurture gifted students whose performance on early tests does not accurately reflect their potential to excel? How can we facilitate a beneficial dialog with parents, and how can we effectively communicate the experience and insights of TAG families to the Districtís policy makers, administrators and practitioners? Most generally, how can we best facilitate a process through which the Districtís talented and gifted students are afforded the opportunity they have been promised by both State and District: i.e., to receive instruction at their assessed levels and accelerated rates of learning? 

 

 

Respectfully submitted by,

 

Tom Gauntt

TAGAC Chair 2006-2007

On behalf of the TAG Advisory Council